Banking on the River Bovey

After successive wet winters, a section of woodland track along the bank of the river Bovey in Pullabrook Woods has suffered some serious erosion. Each year as the river level has risen, the surface has gradually been lifted and rolled downstream by the flood water. In places the track has been made impassable by the sharp ridges of bedrock, jutting from the ground.

Track in winter flood 1
The river Bovey claims the track at Pullabrook Woods

Access along this route is not only needed for those enjoying a walk in the valley but is crucial for the woodland management team. Other than a mountainously steep climb at the far end of the wood, the only way to reach a meadow by the riverside is by this 100 metre stretch of track lying in the flood zone. The wildflower meadow is a key element of the conservation plan in Pullabrook Woods as it makes up part of the wider patchwork of habitats across the East Dartmoor National Nature Reserve and provides a home for many butterflies and the various species of oil beetles. Until recently, this meadow was a dark and shady plantation of conifers and has now been opened up to bathe in the sun, providing homes for a range of interesting invertebrates. The meadow has also proved to be an ideal venue for people to meet and events to take place, including the recent woodland weekend where traditional crafts of charcoal making, green woodworking, hazel hurdling and horse logging were on display and visitors learned about the woodland restoration work through a guided walk.

Repairing the track on the river bank at Pullabrook has been carried out with careful planning and preparation. To maintain the water quality, the imported stone has been sourced from around Dartmoor which will preserve the water chemistry and keep the aquatic habitat in balance. The acidic granite rock armour has been placed on the original line of the bank to avoid making changes in the flow while the track surfacing material is also from a local quarry. This crushed stone is known as “growan” and has the appearance of granite gravel which is the naturally occurring state of decomposing Dartmoor rock. It provides a perfect surface to be rolled onto the finished track.

Avoiding damage to this stretch of river and safeguarding its ecology will protect the river bed and benefit the rare multi-fruited river-moss further downstream. This is a specialised flood plain plant that, in England, is only found on a handful of rivers around Dartmoor. The area is also a favourite fishing spot of the local otters and unaffected flow of the river should keep their hunting ground in good condition. The ecologists on the nature reserve are also hoping that the one-tonne boulders may even give the otters an opportunity to deposit their spraint as a clear marking of their territory.

As the winter floods did their worst and the ensuing work to reinstate the track surface progressed, an interesting discovery was made. Among the boulders alongside the original track, a few clues were uncovered, revealing that this stretch of track had been eroded away many years before. History was clearly repeating itself as hand-cut granite tramway stones from the Templer Way had been used to build up this very same length of bank in years gone by. This is obviously not the first time the high river levels have taken the track away here. The contractor working for the Woodland Trust used his skill to place these heritage features on top of the newly positioned granite boulders, telling a story for future visitors about the life and times of the river Bovey. With this well-planned and sensitively constructed hard engineering feature it should be many years before the river takes this track away again.

Rock armour in place and ready for surfacing

Now, after a minor disturbance, the life around the river will be able to re-establish itself and the story of the Bovey river bank will carry on.

Written by Matt Parkins

Images by Dave Rickwood and Matt Parkins

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